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When Kluwe looked at his phone the next afternoon, it was exploding with notifications from his Twitter account.
"I'll never forget it," Kluwe says. "I kept track of the negative replies. There were probably about six of about 6,000 responses on Twitter in that first day. It was overwhelmingly positive."
Burns quickly walked back his statements a couple of days later, conceding in an interview with the Baltimore Sun that Ayanbadejo "has his First Amendment rights."
But it was too late. Kluwe's letter went viral, and he suddenly had a national audience for his campaign in favor of gay marriage. Minnesota is one of four states facing some variation of a marriage vote this November. Based on how these races have played out around the country, the odds are against same-sex marriage advocates, says Matt Barreto, political-science professor and poll director at the University of Washington.
"It could happen because, nationally, we know public opinion is moving more and more in favor of same-sex rights," says Barreto. "But historically, if we look at the data, it doesn't look good for these initiatives in other states."
Though the polls in Minnesota show a close race, the outlook for gay-marriage supporters might be bleaker than it appears, says Bill Hillsman, a political consultant best known for his work on the late Senator Paul Wellstone's campaign. "I think there's a lot of people in the state, especially Democrats, who may say one thing about what they're going to do on this particular issue, and then do something else."
To defeat the amendment, it won't be enough to simply piggyback on Obama votes, Hillsman says. Gay marriage groups will have to aggressively pull votes from independents and moderate conservatives. Even with a professional football player on their side, Hillsman is pessimistic the amendment's opponents will be able to sway enough voters, but he believes Kluwe is making an impact.
"I think what Chris Kluwe has done is opened up a potential audience that otherwise wasn't even on the radar," says Hillsman. "That audience, I would submit, is younger, male and probably doesn't really care that much about this issue."
In a race that has been viciously politicized, Kluwe has managed to break through the static with both his status as a professional athlete and the colorful language he used in the letter, says University of Minnesota political-science professor Larry Jacobs.
"You kind of expect your Democrats or Republicans to stand up with a bazooka and blow away your opponent," says Jacobs. "That's what kind of made this special. We've kind of been shaken awake by Chris Kluwe's first barrage and how eloquent and powerful he was."
* * *
Thirty minutes outside Minneapolis, in a spacious but modest suburban house, Kluwe takes a seat in his near-empty living room. Now that their oldest daughter is ready to start school, Kluwe and his wife are selling their Minnesota home, moving their permanent residence back to Orange County.
In the meantime, only the essentials remain: a few Xbox games, two laptops—one for writing, the other for gaming—and a bookshelf filled with mostly science fiction: Isaac Asimov, Kurt Vonnegut and Warren Ellis.
"I read super-fast," says Kluwe, who got a perfect score on the verbal portion of the SAT. "Usually, a 300-page book will take me about two and a half, three hours to go through. That helped me out a lot in school because I didn't go to class, and the night before the test, I'd be like, 'Oh, I'm going to read the textbook.'"
Though Kluwe is now the spokesman for a liberal cause, he doesn't consider himself a Democrat. He favors neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney, and he describes the presidential race as a contest to kiss the ass of the most billionaire donors, rather than the battle of ideas it purports to be. If Kluwe had to label himself, he'd say libertarian, but that doesn't quite sum it up either.
"My ideal world is one in which we don't need a government because people treat one another the way they want to be treated," Kluwe says. "But until we fix human nature, that's probably not going to happen."
Kluwe says he doesn't see the issue of gay marriage as political. His philosophy on the subject goes back to the Golden Rule, and he believes an amendment that would constitutionally criminalize same-sex marriage amounts to institutionalized segregation.
"You see all these arguments against gay marriage, and they all kind of logically boil down to 'It makes me feel icky,'" says Kluwe. "That's not a valid logical argument! Like, tell me that gay people getting married is going to cause someone to steal your garage-door opener, or it's going to cause your dog to poop in your front yard. I can argue against that!"
Kluwe isn't the only NFL player to enter the public discourse on gay rights. In 1975, three years after retiring from the Green Bay Packers, David Kopay became the first NFL player to publicly come out of the closet. Though he believed he was a prime candidate for a coaching spot, Kopay was turned down by the NFL and instead spent his life after football as a salesman for a floor-covering business. Kopay later said he thought he'd been shunned by the league because of his sexual orientation.